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MY SWEDISH CAREER

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‘I took a challenge and now I’m a station officer’

Moving abroad can involve a lot of firefighting for any expat. But British-born Jeffrey King has literally been putting out fires during a ten-year career with the Swedish Fire and Rescue Service.

'I took a challenge and now I'm a station officer'
Jeffrey King, 41, has been a firefighter in Sweden for more than a decade. Photo: Private
Back in 2003, Jeffrey King was having a hard time adjusting to living in Sweden after relocating here with the love of his life, a Swedish woman he met on a backpacking trip to Guatemala.
 
“I'd been here for a year and I was still struggling to use Swedish,” he tells The Local.
 
Having worked for Surrey Fire and Rescue Service in the UK, he found himself being shunted between temporary jobs in Stockholm, working for removal and delivery firms as well as in sales.
 
“It was a really big moment. I had to decide whether I wanted to move back or not. But then I turned round to myself and thought 'what can I do to make this work?'. In situations like this you have to decide whether to face the challenge or not…for me I always enjoy a challenge,” he laughs.
 
King went back to his books and spent the following year trying to become fluent enough in Swedish to return to his passion: fighting fires.
 
“Communicating is so important,” he says, explaining the need for excellent language skills in his role, even in a nation where English is so widely spoken.
 
“Speed is very important and you're also under a lot of stress, when it's easy to revert to your native tongue.”
 
His study efforts paid off.
 
In 2004 King scored a job with the Swedish Fire and Rescue Service and ended up working on some of the most high-profile emergencies of the last decade.
 
These included a runaway train that made global headlines after it ploughed through 70 metres of snow and crashed into a family home in eastern Stockholm in 2013, and a wave of arson attacks that destroyed three supermarkets in Södertälje, south of the Swedish capital, in 2009.
 

The Saltsjöbaden rail crash made international news in 2013. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
 
“People often ask if I think I've worked on fewer big things than I would have done if I had stayed working in the UK, but I don't think that is the case!” he says.
 
While the 41-year-old clearly found it fulfilling to be working out in the field, he is now a station officer in Haninge, south of Stockholm, where he manages a team of firefighters.
 
“I think I probably progressed more quickly than if I had been back home,” he explains.
 
“It's a smaller fire service and there is less hierarchy and it's more flat. So when you do involve yourself in different things it's easier to get noticed.”
 
While it's not uncommon for expats to struggle with making friends in Sweden, King says he's enjoyed getting to know his Swedish colleagues and also cites his rugby club, the Stockholm Exiles, as a major source of support outside of work.
 
“One of the reasons I stayed in Sweden after that first year was because I had other things in my life,” he tells The Local.
 
“A lot of the players were expats in a similar position. We all helped each other with jobs and Swedish and things and our partners got to know each other,” he adds.
 
“Expats I have met are maybe more open from the beginning, which makes it easier to become friends. But I have Swedish friends too. When you befriend a Swede properly, after a while they'll be very, very good friends.”
 
 
King, who has two daughters aged six and seven, says he was also drawn to settle down in Sweden due to “much more affordable childcare” than in the UK as well as the country's education system.
 
“Not just smaller classes, but also just the whole process of how you get your children into the school you want seems easier here than back home, when I hear what my sister has been going through.”
 

King's daughters learning about his career. Photo: Private
 
But despite his now deep roots in the Nordics, King says his family is considering a temporary move back to the UK.
 
“We have been discussing perhaps returning for a little while, so my children can get to know my family and my parents. But it probably wouldn't be a permanent move because the quality of life is just so much better in Sweden.”
 
As for the Swedish Fire and Rescue Service, he says he would “totally recommend it” to any Brits or other foreign firefighters willing to put in the time to learn the local language.
 
“Yes, come and work here!” he says with a chuckle.
 
“Actually we are recruiting right now…but Swedish is a must.”
 
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READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”

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